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Senegal 2019 Crime & Safety Report

Africa > Senegal; Africa > Senegal > Dakar

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Senegal at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime and landmines

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Dakar does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Senegal-specific webpage for analytic reports, travel alerts, and contact information.

Crime Threats

There is serious risk from crime in Dakar. Street crime is very common, particularly in urban areas. Crimes of opportunity (e.g. pickpocketing, purse snatching, theft of valuables from vehicles, assaults, residential burglaries) are the crimes U.S. official personnel, business travelers, and visitors encounter most frequently. Aggressive vendors, panhandlers, and street children often attempt to divert victims’ attention while an accomplice steals valuables. Do not accept items from anyone on the street unless you plan to buy them; this is a favorite ploy of street criminals.

In 2018, criminals continued to use scooters, motorcycles, and mopeds to steal purses/backpacks from pedestrians in all neighborhoods of Dakar. There have been incidents of individuals on mopeds robbing other individuals on mopeds. Minor injuries often occur during moped attacks; as drivers may knock down or drag victims.

Street robberies and muggings frequently involve the use of knives/machetes, though injuries are rare when the victim is compliant.

Throughout 2018, the U.S. Embassy received reports of home invasions targeting houses in neighborhoods frequented by expatriates; the total number of reports was higher than in 2017. Notable incidents in 2018 that affected Westerners include:  

  • A home invasion targeting the residence of member of an international organization located in the Almadies area near the U.S. Embassy; the incident occurred while the occupants slept.
  • A burglary of a third-floor apartment in the Almadies area that was an Embassy residence; the incident occurred while occupants slept.
  • An attempted entry of an Embassy residence while the residents were asleep by an unknown individual; the residential guard chased off the assailant.
  • The robbery of an apartment occupied by an individual associated with the Embassy; the assailant restrained and locked the resident in a bathroom during the robbery.

 

Most reported home invasions occur when residences lack sufficient security (e.g. alarms, barred windows, 24/7 guards) or where the security measures exist but are not in use.

Credit/ATM card fraud remains a concern in Dakar. The U.S. Embassy recommends that its employees take precautions using credit/debit cards. Skimming is the primary means of credit fraud, and is undetectable until fraudulent charges appear on statements. If you must use a credit/debit card, monitor accounts closely. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Other Areas of Concern

The Embassy prohibits its staff and family members from walking and running along the Corniche d’Ouest during darkness, particularly in the Ouakam, Fenêtre Mermoz and Fann neighborhoods, due to reports of assaults and theft. Street robberies along the Corniche d’Ouest in the Fenêtre Mermoz and Fann neighborhoods occur frequently. Due to the elevated threat of crime in Dakar, do not walk outside alone at night.

Exercise caution throughout the Casamance region (comprising the administrative regions of Ziguinchor, Sédhiou, and Kolda in southern Senegal) because of separatist violence, armed banditry, and the possibility of landmines. Armed banditry remains a concern, particularly in rural areas and for travelers transiting by road. Armed individuals have set up roadblocks and attacked travelers on roads in the Casamance region. In one instance in 2018, one person was killed and several injured when bandits set up an official roadblock along R4, the road between Ziguinchor and Cap Skirring. Landmines from prior conflicts remain in the region; do not stray from main roads and well-traveled areas in the Casamance.

The Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MDFC) is the longest-running separatist militant group in sub-Saharan Africa, and continues to wage a very low-level insurgency against the Senegalese government. While separatist militants primarily target military installations, convoys, and personnel in an attempt to destabilize the region, civilians in the Casamance have been targets of opportunity for separatist fighters and criminal elements, some of whom may be rebel-supported.

Although the frequency of separatism-related attacks has diminished since a de facto ceasefire in 2012, violent incidents still occur in the Casamance. In January 2018, gunmen killed more than a dozen people in the forest in an incident linked to illegal logging. In March 2018, an explosive device damaged a bridge along the R4. The Embassy restricted travel for government personnel on the R4 between Ziguinchor and Cap Skirring, as well as the RN20 between Ziguinchor and São Domingos, Guinea-Bissau, in the aftermath of those incidents.  The U.S. Government’s ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in the Casamance region is limited due to these and other official travel restrictions and security concerns.

U.S. government employees are prohibited from traveling after dark between cities not just in Casamance but nationwide. Due to security concerns, the Embassy must approve all official travel to the Ziguinchor and Sédhiou administrative areas within the Casamance region. The Embassy prohibits personnel from personal travel outside of Ziguinchor and Cap Skirring in the area west of Ziguinchor (or west of RN 4) between the Casamance River and the Bissau-Guinean border due to armed criminality. The Embassy restricts personnel from traveling off paved roads in the Ziguinchor and Sédhiou administrative regions without prior approval due to landmines, discovered in roadbeds as recently as late 2016. The Senegalese government requires notification of official Embassy travel to the region.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Vehicle accidents are the main threat to U.S. travelers. Risk of vehicle accidents increases at night. Poor traffic markers; changing traffic patterns; the occasional presence of animals or people in the road; and random, unannounced road construction confuse even the most experienced drivers. Many local drivers are aggressive, unpredictable, and untrained. The Embassy recommends keeping windows rolled up, especially in the Plateau and Medina area of downtown Dakar, due to the possibility of harassment and theft.

Local vehicles may be in poor working condition and often do not meet U.S. safety standards. Availability of spare parts and mechanics capable of repairing vehicles -- U.S. brands in particular – decreases outside of Dakar.

A valid U.S. driver’s license is sufficient for driving in Senegal for up to six months. Drivers must apply for a Senegalese driver’s license or have in their possession an international driving permit after that six-month period. Police may confiscate the license of a driver accused of a minor traffic violation or involved in an accident; the license is typically returned to the owner at the police station after payment of a fine. The Embassy does not recommend paying fines directly to traffic police, as this could fuel bribery attempts. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Reports Driving Overseas: Best Practices and Road Safety in Africa.

Road conditions outside of Dakar vary greatly. Many roads are in poor condition, unpaved, or full of potholes – particularly in rural areas. Poor road conditions may impact drive times and driver safety. Drivers may drive unpredictably, as they jockey for a smooth surface or avoid hazards. Road safety issues compound during the rainy season. Further from Dakar, it may be hard to find medical care and emergency services.

Public Transportation Conditions

Dakar’s distinctive black and yellow taxis are often in poor working condition and do not meet U.S. safety standards. Passengers must negotiate prices before getting in, and should exit the taxi prior to paying. Use taxis with proper safety equipment, never get into an occupied taxi, and insist on being the only passenger for the duration of the trip. There have been several reports of taxi drivers working in collusion with thieves to rob passengers who agreed to share a vehicle. When possible, for repeated travel, develop a relationship with a competent taxi driver who has a vehicle in good working condition.

Use caution when using any buses, except the Dakar Dem Dikk city buses. Most of the colorful Ndiaga Ndiaye (Al Hum, Car Rapide) buses lack safety restraints and sometimes windows, and are operated in an unsafe manner by unskilled drivers. Avoid using sept place – old station wagons used as shared taxis often seen chugging between cities throughout the countryside.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The Government of Senegal inaugurated Blaise Diagne International Airport (DSS) in 2017. Though modern, expect long lines at immigration and delays in getting luggage, particularly if multiple flights are landing concurrently. Security enforces controls into the baggage claim area only sporadically. There have been incidents of unauthorized individuals approaching travelers to assist them with their luggage; these individuals try to coerce an excessive fee for their help. Decline assistance unless it has been pre-arranged (through, for example, a travel expeditor). Pre-arrange transportation from the airport to your lodging with your hotel or another provider. Taxi drivers try to take advantage of newly arrived passengers and charge excessive fees.

There are safety concerns related to travel along the A1 highway, which connects the international airport to downtown Dakar and the Corniche (Dakar-Plateau), particularly after dark. The A1 has limited lighting and few Gendarme patrols; there are also no nearby trauma centers in the event of a serious accident. Many international flights take off and land after dark, increasing the likelihood of nighttime travel. Exercise extreme caution along the route at night.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Dakar. Although Senegal has not suffered a terrorist attack, it remains vulnerable due to porous borders, regional instability, and the activities of regional terrorist groups. In particular, Mali-based terrorist groups could pose a threat to Senegal, as the Senegalese government contributes troops and police to the UN peacekeeping mission there. Various terrorist groups have threatened the Senegalese government because of its support of peacekeeping operations throughout the continent.

Terrorist groups have made threats specifically against French, and more generally Western, interests throughout the Sahel and parts of West Africa. Terrorists target French interests due to France’s sizeable presence in the region – particularly its military involvement in Mali and the Sahel.

Attacks on soft targets where foreigners may congregate are of particular concern. In recent years, the Government of Senegal has taken steps to mitigate potential terrorist attacks, primarily by posting national police or Gendarmes at potentially vulnerable or attractive targets.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

There is moderate risk of political violence in Dakar. Senegal is one of the most stable political democracies in West Africa. Senegal is a predominately Muslim country; religious extremism and extremist rhetoric has not gained a foothold, and the populace seems willing to cooperate with authorities in preventing extremist violence.

Civil Unrest

Public protests, demonstrations, and strikes occur regularly and can escalate into violence. Avoid large gatherings, as riot police may resort to using batons and teargas for crowd control. Common locations for public demonstrations in Dakar are Place de l’Indépendance, Place de l’Obélisque, and University Cheikh Anta Diop. Demonstrations at the university are becoming more frequent. Gendarmes usually respond to and disperse protests quickly without resorting to the excessive use of force.

In April 2018, protests occurred in Dakar over a new electoral reform law passed ahead of the 2019 Presidential Election. Opposition supporters also engaged in demonstrations after two prospective presidential candidates were barred from running. These activities were organized and were largely peaceful. An elevated likelihood of protest activity extends into 2019, as some opposition elements have contested election results.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

During the rainy season (July-October), severe flooding may occur, particularly in the Casamance region. Flooding can negatively impact Senegal’s road systems, making driving conditions even more dangerous. Heavy rains and wind have knocked down power lines for extended periods.

Personal Identity Concerns

Same-sex relations are illegal, and arrests, while rare, often make headlines. Arrests for these offenses usually come only after a third party files a complaint.

Senegal is extremely difficult to navigate for individuals with physical disabilities. There are very few accommodations for people with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

Senegal is a pass-through point for West African drug trafficking, primarily from Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. Some small marijuana cultivation efforts also exist within Senegal.

Kidnapping Threat

The threat of kidnapping from criminal elements and terrorist groups exists but is rare. Treat the border regions between Senegal, Mauritania, and Mali as possible danger areas due to the potential for cross-border activity from Mali-based terrorist groups. The Embassy did not receive any reports of kidnappings in 2018. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

Police response to criminal activity is inconsistent, and does not meet Western standards.

Senegalese law requires that individuals carry valid identification documents. As a general rule, the police do not distinguish between original documents and photocopies. At a minimum, carry copies of the biographic information page of your passport. Do not ignore a police officer’s lawful or reasonable orders. Treat Senegalese officers as you would U.S. law enforcement officials. Belligerence or a lack of respect toward uniformed officers will exacerbate the situation and may result in arrest.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If arrested, ask to contact U.S. Embassy American Citizen Services. Police do not always honor requests expeditiously; you may need to be repeat your request.

Crime Victim Assistance

Senegal has minimal resources available for victim assistance and support.

Police/Security Agencies

There are two primary law enforcement entities: the National Police and the National Gendarmerie. Both entities have nationwide law enforcement authority. The National Police fall under the Ministry of Interior and focus on major population centers. The National Gendarmerie falls under the Ministry of Defense and has nationwide jurisdiction. Dakar is split in two regions: the southern part is National Police jurisdiction, and the northern part is National Gendarmerie jurisdiction.

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities outside Dakar are limited. In-patient psychiatric care is inadequate, but there is office-based psychiatry assistance available.

French medications are more readily available than U.S. pharmaceuticals. U.S. drugs may still be available, but listed under their French trade names. You may obtain medications at pharmacies throughout Dakar and in other parts of the country frequented by tourists. Carry a personal supply of prescription medicines, along with copies of prescriptions that include the generic name for the drugs, as well as a supply of preferred over-the-counter medications. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report Traveling with Medications.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

There are several hospitals and clinics in Dakar that can treat a variety of injuries and illnesses. Public hospitals do not meet U.S. standards, but several private clinics are better than what is available publicly.

The Embassy maintains a list of medical resources for U.S.-citizen patients on its medical assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

  • Europ Assistance: +1-877-710-4082, Local +1-240-330-1523, #1000, 4330 East-West Hwy, Bethesda, MD 20814
  • Healix: +44 203 640 67940, Healix House, Esher Green, Esher, Surrey KT 10 8AB, UK
  • International SOS: + 44-20-8762-8384 or +1-267-716-2411, Chiswick Park, Building 4, 566 Chiswick High Rd, London 5YA, UK

 

Insurance Guidance

The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that all visitors to Senegal travel with medical evacuation insurance.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Senegal.

OSAC Country Council Information

Dakar has an active OSAC Country Council, which means quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Dakar, Route des Almadies, Dakar

Monday-Thursday 0800-1730, and Friday 0800-1300

Embassy Contact Numbers

U.S. Embassy Switchboard: +221 33 879 4000

Marine Security Guard Post 1: +221 33 879 4000 (24/7)

Website: https://dakar.usembassy.gov/

Consular coverage for multi-post countries

The Embassy is also responsible for Guinea-Bissau.

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling in Senegal should register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service that helps the U.S. Embassy disseminate information about safety conditions and contact travelers in an emergency.

Additional Resources

Senegal Country Information Sheet